Malta Summit From Refugees to Trump

European Union leaders agreed Friday on a plan to keep migrants from crossing the Mediterranean sea and discussed the growing policy discord with the new U.S. president. Chancellor Merkel said Europe's destiny was in its own hands.
European leaders met during a break at their summit in Valletta, Malta. Chancellor

U.S. President Donald Trump loomed large over a summit meeting of E.U. leaders in Malta on Friday, but in terms of actual policy, the biggest problems were tackled elsewhere.

A 10-point program approved by E.U. leaders in Malta aims to halt the flood of African migrants entering Europe via the Mediterranean sea.

A central focus of the program is Libya. The politically-unstable country has served as a major point of departure for thousands of Africans seeking a new life in Europe. Human trafficking has become the fastest growing and most profitable criminal activity in the country.

“We have to fight illegal human trafficking,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel who on Friday visited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Brussels’ multi-billion euro deal with Turkey has largely ended the flow of refugees on the Aegean and Balkans routes.

European leaders agreed in Malta that they would need to concentrate more on helping Africa, Ms. Merkel said at a press conference after the talks. That's especially true as the United States under President Trump turns its focus inward.

The measures for Libya include increased training, equipment and money for its coast guard, establishing refugee camps and working with neighboring countries to stem the flow of migrants. A key goal is to reduce the massive human trafficking industry that smuggles migrants across both the Libyan dessert and the Mediterranean sea under highly dangerous circumstances.

In a first step, the European Union will provide €200 million.

The stronger we state clearly how we define our role in the world, the better we can take care of our trans-Atlantic relations. Angela Merkel

Ahead of the E.U. summit in Malta, Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni signed a separate agreement that also sent money, training and equipment to the Libyan government.

Thousands are believed to be waiting in Libya to catch a boat to make the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.

Last year, more than 180,000 migrants risked their lives to reach Europe from North Africa. Over 5,000 people died in overloaded boats that capsized, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Although not officially on the agenda, Mr. Trump was a major topic of discussion, Ms. Merkel said.

“Europe has its destiny in its own hands,” she told reporters. “I believe the stronger we state clearly how we define our role in the world, the better we can take care of our trans-Atlantic relations.”

Ms. Merkel noted that there will be areas where the United States will need to continue working closely together, such as fighting terrorism, and areas where member states will need to do more on their own, such as defense spending.

Ahead of the talks in Malta, French President Francois Hollande criticized Mr. Trump for essentially hanging over the European talks.

“It is unacceptable that there should be pressure, through a certain number of statements by the president of the United States, on what Europe should or should not be,” he told reporters.

John Blau is a senior editor with Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: [email protected]